afrol News, 4 June - UN Peacekeepers in DR Congo are planning a new gorilla rescue airlift next month, which will take six babies seized from poachers to a sanctuary in North Kivu. The airlift sparks calls for stronger control in Congo Basin forests.
The rescue is being carried out amid concerns for the future of the endangered species and recommendations by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL to strengthen the capacity of the UN peacekeeping mission and law enforcement bodies to combat cross-border environmental crime in the Congo Basin and gorilla range states.
The operation, planned for mid-July, is the second to be conducted by UN forces in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) as part of a wider effort to combat the illegal cross-border trade in baby gorillas, which has intensified in recent years with the proliferation of armed groups in the region.
The first rescue mission was conducted by the peacekeeping mission (MONUC) on 27 May, when four eastern lowland baby gorillas, seized from poachers, were flown to safety by UN helicopters to a sanctuary in Kasughu in North Kivu, DRC.
The second airlift will involve transporting another six babies to the same sanctuary. Together, the orphaned gorillas are hoped to form a new "family" of ten. The ultimate objective is to rehabilitate the gorillas and to reintroduce them back in their natural environment.
According to the recent UNEP report, entitled "The Last Stand for the Gorilla", unless urgent action is taken to strengthen the enforcement of environmental law and counter poaching, endangered gorillas may largely disappear from the Greater Congo Basin, in the next fifteen years.
Previous projections, made in 2002, suggested that only 10 percent of the original ranges would remain by 2030. "These estimates now appear too optimistic, given the intensification of pressures including illegal logging, mining, charcoal production and increased demand for bushmeat, of which an increasing proportion is ape meat," according to UNEP.
The Greater Congo Basin, including the spectacular Virunga Mountains, is considered one of the world's most resource-rich but troubled regions. "In the context of recent wars and continued unrest, the environment remains the silent victim of conflict in the region," the UN agency holds.
Natural resources are systemically exploited or illegally-harvested. Minerals such as diamonds, gold, cassiterite and coltan - used in laptops and mobile phones - as well as timber, end up crossing borders, passing through middle men and companies before being shipped onto countries in Asia, the European Union and the Gulf.
With militias controlling border crossings, profits made from such illegal trade - worth several hundred million US dollars annually - are central to fuelling the conflict and the commission of serious violations of human rights and the environment. The report estimates that militias make between US$ 14 million and 50 million on road and border taxes alone.
In March, UNEP called on the international community to expand MONUC's capacity to combat such violations and halt environmental crime by strengthening the UN mission's mandate to encompass security and control of border crossings - with regard to the export of illegally exploited natural resources financing the conflict.
Christian Nelleman, lead author of the UNEP report says that enforcement for now has worked in saving the mountain gorillas in Virunga mountain range - which includes Rwanda, DRC and Uganda. "But without adequate law enforcement not only the Eastern Lowland gorillas, but also elephants and rhinos are in danger."
He pointed out that the UN is "observing no indication that the poaching and illegal looting of natural resources is ending. In fact, we are now observing a dramatic rise in poaching across large parts of Africa and Asia including for rhino horn, elephant ivory and other nature-based products. Strengthened law enforcement and especially support to INTERPOL is urgently needed to address this transnational crime."
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